Indiana Animal Rights Alliance

Members of the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance protesting the former Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.

Provided.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus closed up shop last week after 146 years as a result of declining ticket sales.

Various animal rights groups celebrated the news, including members of the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance.

The then-fledgling group targeted Ringling Brothers with a letter writing campaign four years ago asking the Children's Museum of Indianapolis to end its relationship with the circus, IARA Executive Director Joel Kerr said.

The effort succeeded and the Hoosier-born group went on to host the largest Ringling protest in the nation with more than 250 people, he said.

"It seemed we had unlocked a real passion here in Indy," Kerr said. "It was a nationwide effort, but I always gave the people here a lot of credit because we were the example to Ringling that nowhere was safe."

The success has put IARA on the map, he said. The group distinguishes itself from others in that it advocates for a hands-off approach when it comes to animals rather than working to just make the conditions better for animals used for food, clothing, entertainment and research.

"We believe they have the right to exist for their own purposes and their lives have meaning to them, and their lives should not be valued only upon what they can do for us or provide for us," Kerr said.

IARA has set its sights these days on animal agriculture considering that the vast majority of animals harmed are done so for food, he said. The message is a simple one — go vegan.

"Every person who gives up animal products saves over 30 land animals per year and up to 100 total animals when fish are included," Kerr said.

The group is also working to convince the Indianapolis Zoo to end its dolphin breeding program and shows, he said. Kerr said 26 of the 31 baby dolphins born at the zoo have died.

"It is becoming more accepted that marine mammals do not belong in captivity," he said.

Kerr recognizes the challenge of this sort of advocacy work in a state as heavy in animal agriculture as Indiana. He estimated that there are 72 million animals at any given time on farms and factory farms around the state.

"I love farms and farmers," he said. "I just want them to grow plants instead of animals. The farming culture in Indiana can still thrive by growing plant-based food for people."

Kerr is hopeful, despite the challenges he faces.

"We try to make sure people know that it isn’t weird or unhealthy to eat plant-based foods, it’s perfectly normal and makes a lot of sense," he said. "Young people are switching to vegan diets at twice the rate of their parents because that cultural stigma is wearing off."

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Bob is a 22-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.